Italy is known as home to some of the world’s best manufacturers of industrial machines, some of which have helped transform nations especially in Africa where the Italian flag is flying high as one of the providers of the world’s most sophisticated and efficient technology. Italy is also renowned for having built some of the best and most durable roads and bridges all over Africa. In fact, many Italian companies that played the pioneer role are still in Africa helping to build nations in a continent which is believed to be the world’s next business frontier. One such company is Pavoni Stone Cutting machines based in Rome and founded by two brothers, Ezio and Pasquale Pavoni who at the time had 30 years of experience in the manufacturing of industrial machines. Pavoni has now been present in Africa for well over 30 years and is still playing a huge role in the transformation of the building and construction industry in Africa one machine at a time. We spoke to Aldo Imbrogino and his uncle Alessandro Calabrò who told us of a love story between Pavoni Stone Cutting machines and one of Africa’s most prosperous countries(Kenya).
Where did the story of Pavoni Stone Cutting Machines begin?
Alessandro: The Pavoni story dates back 31 years to the history of the Italian Tuff industry which saw the establishment of many quarries most of which later closed down due to lack of adequate demand, leaving companies such as ours without much work. At that time Frattelli Pavoni as the company was known then, was one of the companies that was specialised in small stone cutting machines which were highly demanded due their efficiency and reliability. When the market started shrinking, we found ourselves with no choice but look elsewhere, and Africa turned out to be our easiest target owing to the relationships that existed between Italian quarry owners and their African counterparts . We explored many markets but one of the countries that received us with a lot of enthusiasm was Kenya. To our surprise the quarries in Kenya were so much bigger than the ones in Italy which meant that we had to redesign our machines to make them bigger and more robust for that market. We basically adapted our machines to meet the needs of the Kenyan clients, in fact our machines are built with unique specifications through joint participation with the clients thus coming up with a product that is a perfect fit for the market and this has perhaps played a huge role in our success because the client gets exactly what they need.
So when did you venture into Africa?
Alessandro: In the late 80’s, in fact the first quarry in Kenya was owned by an Italian who was a friend to Pasquale. Kenya was much different then. I must say the face of Kenya has really changed from the time we first visited – the country has developed really fast and we are very proud to be part of that story, and to be instrumental in its quest for further development given there is a huge potential with so much still left to be done.
Why did you choose Kenya?
Aldo: When we started our venture into foreign markets, we exported to many countries, among them Libya, Tunisi , Yemen and a few countries in Latin America, the choice to focus more on Kenya was not a deliberate one but rather a natural one that was probably influenced by the economic boom and rapid development in Kenya and as I said a track record of excellence and good relationship built over time from the time Pasquale started his engagement in the country. The coming up of a more sophisticated middle class has also given birth to a unique class of entrepreneurs that have grown to become a part of our clientele. Kenya also has good infrastructure and well-built functional structures that compliment business and create a friendly environment for businesses to thrive. I think this explains why 70 to 80 percent of our sales are from Kenya.
How did you manage to build such strong bonds with Africa?
Alessandro: Pasquale Pavoni made several trips to Africa especially Kenya, creating relationships and I believe we have done a good job of building on that, in fact we have enhanced the value of those relationships to position ourselves as true partners by making sure that our clients feel part and parcel of the production process. Our approach has always been to build long term relationships and also provide long term solutions. In deed when we took over from Pasquale Pavoni in 2008 after his retirement, we conserved the same methods and guaranteed continuity in order to benefit from a very rare connection that he had built over time. The English say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and that is what we did, carry on from where he left.
What makes you successful in Kenya and Africa as a whole?
Aldo: I would say attention to Detail. Every component is done by us, so we have full control of the whole process and are able to monitor and ensure we give our clients the very best quality products. Our machines are very durable, some of the machines we sold 25 to 30 years are still running and it makes us really proud when we go around the quarries with potential clients because they see our machines and simply fall in love with them. Our machines speak for themselves. Our capacity has also grown with time and now we are now able to produce up to four machines per month which is a good thing. I think this gives us an edge over the competition. Most of the companies who sell our kind of machines, buy separate parts which they then assemble. The risk with that is that you lose control of part of the process and your delivery time is also dependent on other suppliers who may sometime delay due to unavoidable circumstances making it difficult to guarantee continuity and consistency to a clientele that is becoming more and more sophisticated and demanding.
You seem to have a special affinity for Africa, why is that
Aldo: Most Africans are easy to deal with once you get to understand them. They are very warm and kind, and it takes much less effort to establish true friendships. We have a good feeling especially with Kenyan. I think it would be right to say that the kind of treatment you get in Kenya is very difficult to find elsewhere.
What future do you see with your company in Africa?
Aldo: We believe Africa is the next frontier. The potential is immense. Things can only get better with time as the infrastructures continue to improve in almost all of the main regions of Africa. We have noticed that our clients have become more autonomous and more prepared to deal with some of the small technical issue regarding our machine which is a very positive thing in our growth plan. They are able to give us the kind of feedback that is useful not only in developing our machines but also our approach and strategy to doing business in Africa, thanks to the close relationships that we share with them. I must add that our vision is much different from that of many companies because we ventured into Africa when there was no competition at all, more companies have now discovered and are getting into Africa.
What other countries of Africa are you interested in?
Aldo: Currently we are looking at countries such Tanzania and Somali, even if it has conflicts and other institutional problems that might make it difficult to do business there. In fact, we already have our machines in Tanzania and Somali even though they are very few for now. We are also interested in countries like Angola, Rwanda Djibouti and Ghana among others. We basically see opportunity in every country where there are good stones and quarries, because most of the companies in Africa are still using less advanced means of cutting stone. Our machines would not only enhance the capacity of the individual quarries but also the building and construction industry as a whole in any country we go to, since our machines are capable of producing between 20000 to 350000 perfectly cut stone per day.
What are some of the challenges you have had to face?
Aldo: I think one of the issues maybe the difficulty that some potential clients have in raising the initial capital to buy our machines even though more and more entrepreneurs are beginning to have more access to capital especially through asset financing offered by various African banks. The other challenge we have is government structures and policy. Some countries have poor policy compared to others making it almost impossible to enter the markets. Some countries also have the problem of concentrating development in just a few areas, mostly in the main cities while neglecting other parts of the country, making it difficult to expand. Development in a place like Kenya for example is well balanced because the government funds are spread out in the 47 counties which are very active and manage their own budgets. Thika and Juja areas in Kenya are examples of counties that have a history of dependence on stone cutting as a source of income in fact the towns (Thika and Juja) have been built around the quarries.
Where do you see Africa in the future?
Alessandro: There is great opportunity in African and one can see it in the presence of some of the biggest multinationals in the continent. During my last visit in Kenya, I noticed for example that there are so many Italian companies who have set up in the country, which is a clear sign that more and more investors are beginning to have confidence in the opportunity that Africa has to offer. Most of these companies especially Italian, bring only know how to Kenya, there are many Italian restaurants some of which do not have a single Italian working in them, the Italians have simply passed the know-how which is very interesting
What I always tell our African clients who come to Italy is that Africa must decide the future it wants for itself. The Kenyans and Africans in general are getting more educated and hence better placed to understand what is best for the continent. Most big cities in Africa today look more and more westernised and that’s ok. What I would like to urge Africans from the bottom of my heart though, is that they must conserve their culture and identity because this is the back-borne of any successful economy. everything must revolve around this. One needs to know that he can come to Africa or Kenya for that matter and enjoy nature and the beautiful view of the sunrise and sunset which are things that may be taken for granted but that many people around the world long for but will never have. Modernity is good but should not take away everything.
What advice do you have for European companies that are planning to do business in Africa?
Alessandro: I can speak for the countries where we are represented and say that Africa is hungry for true partnerships based on mutual respect and more than anything trust. There is so much to do in Africa for those that are willing to trust not only in Africa and the opportunities therein, but also in the African people themselves and their capacity to be able to play an integral role in helping investors build strong foundations for huge enterprises that can harness the enormous potential of a continent whose real riches are yet to be fully discovered and explored. This may take time like it did in our case. But they must be seen to be doing something, they must put their best foot forward to show they believe in African and are willing to walk with Africa in the realisation of the African dream.